At lunchtime on July 21, a local chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars was serving hamburgers and hotdogs at the Veterans Memorial Hall in El Cajon. By the evening, the venue was filled with racist skinheads for a concert staged by a branch of the same hate group that had inspired Wade Page, the gunman who two weeks later killed Sikh worshippers, then himself, at a temple in Wisconsin.
The Summer of Hate concert was organized by the Western Hammerskins, the Southern California branch of The Hammerskin Nation, which is considered by many to be the most powerful and best-organized skinhead group in the United States.
"The western chapter, I would say, it's kind of ebbed and flowed," says University of Nebraska professor Pete Simi, who spent time with SoCal hate groups for his book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate. "They've had some growth in their numbers in just the last few years. Right now, it seems like they're doing a little better than they had in the past. That's kind of true of Hammers nationwide right now."
The show featured three bands: Chaos 88, White Knuckle Driver and Max Resist. The Western Hammerskins advertised food, drinks and a raffle, including prizes such as a Viking-style mead horn, with proceeds benefiting "prisoner of war" Travis Miskam, who's currently serving a 20-year sentence at Centinela State Prison for participating in the 1999 beating of an African-American man at a bar near Temecula. Some skinheads said in online forums that they planned to fly in from out of state for the event.
Images of the show obtained by the Anti-Defamation League, which first noted the event publicly on its website and in an interview with the Orange County Register, show a decent-size crowd of heavily tattooed men and women, a table where a record label was hawking CDs and a stage draped with various flags featuring the Hammerskins' symbol, a pair of crossed hammers. The El Cajon Police Department, which monitored the event from the parking lot, estimated a crowd of about 90 people.
There's no evidence that Page himself attended, but had he been in the region at the time, there's little doubt he would've been drawn to the show. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which researches extremist groups, Page had become a full member of the Hammerskins' northern chapter last year. Page and his girlfriend—whose online handles were publicized by SPLC—interacted with San Diego skinheads through the website Crew38.com, including one local skinhead previously profiled by CityBeat. The OC Weekly reported that Page was involved in the Orange County white-supremacist music scene as early 2001. Simi says that Page— who'd played in the racist skinhead bands End Apathy and Definite Hate—occasionally filled in on bass for Detroit-based Max Resist, whose lead singer is a longtime Hammerskin.
"I guess you might say Max Resist is a staple in the white-power music scene," Simi says. "That's a band that pretty much universally would be recognized among people that listen to this type of music."
The concert, and its Norse-mythology-themed poster, was advertised months in advance on white-nationalist websites such as Stormfront.org, but the location was kept secret until just before the show.
Walt Hamilton, the building manager of the veterans hall, tells CityBeat that he didn't know he was renting to the Western Hammerskins. The caller, he says, booked the facility for $500, for a party of 150 to 200 people. The morning of the show, Hamilton received a call from the police.
"The police, they told me to do nothing, and they were going to keep surveillance of what was going on, and if they had to come in for any reason, they would call us and tell us they were going to come into the premises," Hamilton says. "They caused no trouble, and we had no idea who they were until they got here."
Hamilton hesitates to answer when asked whether it would've made a difference had he known.
"I would like to think it would," he says. "But you get into problems when you start refusing people because of their beliefs. I don't know. If I had known about it at the time, I really would have to think about it. On the other hand, if that's what they believe, as long as they don't cause problems here, which they didn't."
El Cajon Police spokesperson Lt. Mark Coit confirms that his department, along with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the La Mesa Police, monitored the event. They registered no noise complaints or major criminal reports.
T.J. Leyden, an ex-skinhead and former member of the Hammerskins at its inception in the late 1980s, says it's a lot easier these days to promote racist concerts and keep them secret. Often, attendees will wait for directions to be transmitted just before a show via a text or a private message via Twitter.
"These events are planned very, very well, and they're done also to be stealth," he says. "They don't want the cops finding out; they obviously don't want rival groups finding out."
If Summer of Hate drew 90 attendees, Leyden would consider that a moderate success.
"For a local, little gig, that's pretty good," he says. The organizer "probably made his money back off the tickets and everything but the thing is, it's not about the money. It's about getting more recruits, getting more kids in."
Simi agrees, saying that music is a cornerstone of the subculture.
"The music for the Hammerskins, and a lot of these other groups, is a point of organization," Simi says. "It's a mechanism for helping recruit, but also helping sustain current members. It gives them a reason to come together, and the music is closely linked to their political beliefs."
The hate groups associated with the event did not return email messages, possibly due to a coordinated attack by hackers launched against websites perceived to be connected or directly affiliated with Page, including Antipathy Records, a record company that ran a merchandise table at Summer of Hate. Antipathy publicly bragged on its Facebook page that it will continue to sell music by Page's bands, even as other white-supremacist music companies have distanced themselves. Currently, Antipathy is offering a 10-percent discount on purchases of more than $25 to customers who use the coupon code "WADEPAGE" and daring the hackers to strike a second time.
Simi says the move could signal the beginning of Page's martyrdom, just as the Western Hammerskins similarly have declared Miskam a P.O.W.
"When you commit an act of violence, often times you become put on a pedestal and seen as somebody who sacrificed a lot as a result of your commitment," Simi says. "The idea is that because whites are on the verge of extinction, you can pretty much argue that all acts of violence are a form of self-defense. In other words, when white supremacists commit acts of violence, they're really standing up for their people."